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I am having more pain in my left shoulder, numbness down my arm and tingling and numbness in my left hand and fingers.  It isn’t as painful as it is annoying. The more painful my shoulder is, the more numbness I have in my hand.  In the area where I had radiation treatment, I have a lack of sensation in my skin, but pain underneath in my muscles, especially under my arm and around my shoulder-blade.  I sometimes have a sharp pain when I reach for something over my head. Other times there is no pain, just a stretching sensation in my skin.

I thought it might be temporary, but it is happening more often and lasting longer. 

I’m wondering whether this is a typical side effect of radiation therapy or if it’s a sign that I’m developing lymphedema.  I’m also wondering if I should have been doing some range of motion or other exercises to prevent this, and whether exercise will help prevent it from getting worse or even make it better. No one has given me any information about this. But, no one told me that self-massage would prevent the fluid buildup around the surgery site that makes it difficult to get a good ultrasound reading until after it was already a problem. I don’t know why, since it is simple and works in a few weeks.

I will talk to my doctors about this when I see them in January. In the meantime, I found this November 2009 article online:

Many Breast Cancer Surgery Survivors Report Lingering Pain

Women at the greatest risk for chronic pain were ages 18 to 39 and had undergone breast-conserving surgery, or lumpectomy, in which doctors remove only the tumor and some surrounding tissue. Other risk factors for persistent pain included radiation therapy, which is directed at the breast area to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery.  There are several reasons that breast cancer survivors experience pain such as nerve damage or injury from the surgery or radiation, but in the future, nerve-sparing surgery may help take the sting out of this persistent pain, according to study authors. . .

Another doctor adds. . .

“Pain decreases quality of life and should be a cause to reach back out to the surgeon or radiologist and ask for a referral to a physical therapist for intervention,” says Kneece, who is also the author of “Your Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook.” “Most pain can be addressed and reduced or eliminated.”

And this – which I suspected, and so have been doing some stretching exercises on my own:

Physical therapists can help women develop a plan to reduce or eliminate pain. In general, range-of-motion exercises after surgery can help reduce the risk of pain, according to Kneece. “If not performed, there will be a fibrous tissue which forms in the area restricting motion and causing pain when the arm is stretched,” she says.

I want to find out if this is early lymphedema, or if it may be the results of fibrous tissue. Either way, it is getting worse, but it sounds like it can be addressed:

“If one notices increasing swelling accumulating in the affected limbs or trunk, it is likely an early warning sign of lymphedema and she should be evaluated by a fully certified lymphatic drainage therapist,” says occupational therapist Cathy Kleinman-Barnett, a lymphedema specialist at Northwest Medical Center, in Margate, Florida.

“The additional fluid buildup can cause abnormal sensations such as tingling, aching, [and] heaviness, and should diminish or stop with range-of-motion exercises, stretching, and massage to stimulate lymphatic flow,” she says. “There is help available, and women should not have to live in pain.”

This article was in CNN Health

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